The Cook County Health (CCH) has been awarded a $4 million, 4-year grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to fund a new Assisted Outpatient Treatment program that will support individuals with severe mental illness in Cook County. The program, which launches this month, will enhance and coordinate services available to patients from a number of local and state partners.
“As a society, we haven’t historically done a good job of caring for people suffering from severe forms of mental illnesses. Through this grant, we will be able to organize efforts across Cook County to provide this vulnerable population with coordinated treatment and support services so they can lead healthier lives, with less social isolation and lower likelihood of relapse,” said Dr. Jay Shannon, CEO, CCHHS. 
Assisted Outpatient Treatment is court-ordered behavioral health therapy that facilitates successful stabilization and recovery of patients suffering from mental illness. Candidates for Assisted Outpatient Treatment are adults with a serious mental health disease who without community treatment services could experience personal harm or be unable to survive safely in the community.
A majority of Assisted Outpatient Treatment candidates include individuals receiving inpatient care at John J. Madden Mental Health Center and Chicago-Read Mental Health Center, and who have a history of frequent hospitalizations and/or interactions with the criminal justice system. Candidates may also be referred from Cook County Jail.
More than 4,000 petitions are filed for civil court engagement to aid individuals with severe mental illness in Illinois each year.  Assisted Outpatient Treatment is an effective legal course of action to ensure an individual gets the care he or she needs to live a safe and productive life. This grant will allow local and state partners to strengthen the structures necessary to seamlessly connect a person with comprehensive health care, social and legal services once the court process is finalized.
“The goal of this project is to develop infrastructure in Cook County to ensure continuity of care and adherence to treatment for the most severely mentally ill,” said Dr. Michael Colombatto, Director of Ambulatory Behavioral Health, CCHHS.  “We hope to demonstrate that effectively linking people to the resources they need to be successful in treatment can significantly reduce recidivism in inpatient facilities, emergency departments and correctional facilities.”   
Mental illness and substance abuse issues continue to have a tremendous impact on our community that is particularly evident in our hospitals and detention facilities. CCHHS’ hospitals see approximately 3,000 psychiatric-related emergency department visits each year. Nearly one quarter of the patients CCHHS cares for at Cermak Health Services at the Cook County Jail have a behavioral health condition.
Grant funding will support the following strategies:
  • CCHHS hiring three clinical social workers to work exclusively with patients receiving Assisted Outpatient Treatment: helping them navigate their treatment plan, meet court requirements and access other necessary social services. Patients will be able to receive treatment at CCHHS facilities, or other facilities as approved.
  • The creation of Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams by Community Counseling Centers of Chicago (C4). ACT teams will serve as a 24/7 resource for patients in treatment, offering tailored psychiatric, nursing, rehabilitation, and substance abuse care and services.
  • The hiring of a project director to oversee all aspects of the program by Haymarket Center, one of the leading behavioral health providers in the region.
  • The Cook County States Attorney’s Office and the Illinois Guardianship & Advocacy Commission each hiring one full-time equivalent attorney dedicated to Assisted Outpatient Treatment cases to protect patients’ civil liberties and ensure compliance with ordered treatment.
  • Data collection, performance measurement and analytics to ensure program quality and effectiveness.
CCHHS plans to leverage the infrastructure established by CountyCare (the system’s Medicaid managed care health plan) for its Behavioral Health Consortium to connect patients with coordinated health care services based on their individual needs. The consortium serves as single point of access to reach a large number of providers with specific expertise in mental health care and substance abuse treatment. Patients engaged in Assisted Outpatient Treatment will be assigned an ACT team through the consortium. Providers in the consortium include Haymarket Center, Community Counseling Centers of Chicago (C4), Metropolitan Family Services, Human Resources Development Institute (HRDI), Habilitative Systems, Inc (HSI), South Suburban Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse and Family Guidance Centers Inc.
The grant took effect on September 30, 2016 at which time planning efforts commenced.  A steering committee comprised of participating state and local agencies and patient advocates will guide grant operations.